Traidpaloozza Number 2: Approach Tones

Okay. So you think "triads are easy". They are too simple. They are boring. They are old school they are not where it's at. Man.

Well, first of all, yes they are too cool. And secondly, if you really want to add something new to your triads, one of the most common ways to spice them up is to start adding approach tones to them.

These approach tones are tones that approach each note in the triad, ergo, the name.

Exactly where this approach note comes approaching from is where all the fun begins. You can approach the chord tones from a note above each chord tone, or a note below each chord tone, or a note above and a note below, or two notes below and then one note above or...you get the idea.

Here is how it goes: first we need a regular major triad so lets use G major, so G (root), B (third) and D (fifth).

bass lick tempo 120 4/4 | G g4 b4 d4 r4 |

Now lets add an approach note from below each chord tone so, a Gb/F# in front of the G, a Bb in front of the B, and a C# in front of the D

bass lick tempo 120 4/4 | G f#-8 g bb b c# d f# g |

Sounds more zesty huh? Thats a spicy meat-a-ball huh? But it gets better. As diligent readers know, there a musical concept of strong and weak beats that has been discussed here before. Having the notes of a chord occur on these strong beats just sounds better. It just does. This last example does NOT do this however, so while it sounds kinda cool, you can make it sound even better by just shifting things a little.

The strong beats are the down beats, so if you are counting "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and", the strong beats would be the beats on the numbers, 1 2 3 4 and the "ands" are the weak beats. So if we do a little rhythmic shenanigans with these approach notes and push them back just one eighth note, look at what we get.

Approach From Below Rhythmically Arranged
bass lick tempo 120 4/4 f#-8 | G g8 bb8 b8 c#8 d8 f#8 g bb8 | G b8 c#8 d8 f#8 g2 |

Now the stronger notes, the chord tones themselves, are on the strong beats, the downbeats.

This is by far the better way to phrase with approach notes. Approach notes are not usually chord tones, they set up the chord tones, so you want to shift the approaches back so that the chord tone itself gets the down beat and comes down on one of those strong 1 2 3 4 beats.

Here is another set of approaches, the opposite of the first one, this time we will come from a note above each chord tone. So for the same G major triad, an Ab in front of the G (root), a C natural in front of the B (third), and an Eb in front of the D (fifth).

Approach From Above Rhythmically Arranged
bass lick tempo 120 4/4 ab8 | G g8 c8 b8 eb8 d8 ab+8 g8 c8 | b8 eb8 d8 ab+8 g2

But hold on, you say. There is no freaking Ab note in G Major! Those approach notes are not even in the key or the scale or the chord or anything, you can't just go adding notes like that willy nilly helter skelter hodge podge willy skelter!

Uhhhhh, why not?

Actually, you totally can. When you are embellishing a chord like this, it's okay that these approach notes are not in the key or the scale or don't seem related to the chord you are playing except that they are right next to them.

Its like this....say you have a big 4 pound steak, and you put some parsley on it, it doesn't make the steak taste like parsley. It still tastes like steak. You might get a molecule of parsley taste in there somewhere but your brain doesn't think you ate a fork full of salad all of a sudden. It still thinks "yum, dead cow parts". Well, triads are like a big fat fillet mignon cooked in garlic butter. You are gonna taste that meaty buttery garlicy cow no matter what, even if you put some fru-fru little green thing on top of a little part of it. That steak flavor still cuts through and is what you taste the most of, no problem.

That's what triads are like, they are grass fed medium well beef covered in garlic butter. Musically speaking. Even with an extra note in there, you still get the full meaty triad taste. Especially if you shift the approach notes so that the chord tones come in on the downbeats you can add all kinds of approach notes and still get the triad-y-ness of the chord you are playing.

Let's try it with two approach notes, and also get even more rhythmically crafty and make the approach notes 16th notes but keep the triads tones themselves as 8th notes.

Approach From Above & Below Rhythmically Arranged

bass lick tempo 120 4/4 ab16 f#16 | G g8 c16 bb16 b8 eb16 c#16 d8 ab+16 f#16 g8 c16 bb16 | b8 eb16 c#16 d8 ab+16 f#16 g2

Now reverse this pattern so that instead of above below, it is below above

Approach From Below & Above Rhythmically Arranged
bass lick tempo 120 4/4 f#-16 ab16 | G g8 bb16 c16 b8 c#16 eb16 d8 ab+16 f#16 g8 bb16 c16 | b8 c#16 eb16 d8 f#16 ab16 g2

There are other ways to vary the rhythms and the combinations of approach tones is endless as well. And you don't have to play the triads in R - 3 - 5 order either, try them in all the other combinations as well, but with the approach tones in front of each chord tone.

You get the idea, it can go on and on and on. For more info on this concept check out Gary Campbell, Hal Galper, Jeff Berlin, and every saxophone book ever written.

Of course this isn't just for soloing either, not so much for walking lines, but for sure on rock/pop/r & B lines you can use this all the time. Keep the approach notes shorter and on the weak beats for best results.

Try the approach notes here on major chords as well as minor chords and even the diminished and augmented. You will probably hear a few familiar licks in there from just these basic examples.


Anonymous said...

Scott Hubbell has written a book on this available at bass book http://www.bassbooks.com/shopping/shopexd.asp?id=674

Anonymous said...

Great lesson.

A find it easier to start this with diatonic approach tones - seems easier on the ear for someone new to this. It also used major scale tones that most players are familiar with.

When the diatonic approach tones have been explored, then the chromatic ones can be fleshed out for even more "color".

Art Araya

Anonymous said...

For example:

Diatonic approach tones from below:


Diatonic approach tones from above:


Then both the diatonic and chromatic approach tones can be combined like this:



Art Araya

Anonymous said...

Upper and lower approach tones can also be combined like this:

C-A-Bb-B (common in bebop)

Art Araya

Bassist Ridiculoso said...

Oh yea, those are all good ones, there are a ton of them possible. Hal Galper goes through a bunch of them in "Forward Motion" (highly recommended) and there are quite a few Berklee books that have a million different versions of approaches as well - double chromatic above, double chromatic below, triplet ones etc etc.

Once you get the idea of how to build the recipes you can go nuts with it. Just remember that they sound better (to me anyway) when they are rhythmically aligned so the actual chord tones hit on strong beats.

Also try them with pentatonic scales, add approaches to any pentatonic lick, or just one one or two notes of a pentatonic lick to snazz it up quite a bit. Good stuff!

Post a Comment